Anonymous Speech is a Protected Freedom – To a Point

A recent decision out of Maryland illustrates the legal tension that exists between anonymous Internet defamers and those they victimize.

Someone trashed a Dunkin’ Donuts, claiming it was unsanitary and dirty. DD didn’t appreciate that comment, and sought the identity of the person who had posted the comment. In deciding whether the message board was required to disclose that information, Maryland’s highest court decided that the victim of the comments must go onto the board and basically give notice to the defamer. This gives the defamer an opportunity to protect his anonymity by removing the offending comment (although some unscrupulous sites won’t allow the person that posted the comment to take down his own message). Then the victim must persuade the court that the comments constitute defamation. Defamation is not protected speech, so the court can then require disclosure.

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

It’s a tough course for the victim, because being forced to go into the lion’s den will often only fan the flames. However, as this case makes clear, a victim may well be barred at the door if he does not have the fortitude to take that step.

For a more general discussion of the Maryland case, go to Internet Free-for-All Promises An Ongoing Test of Free Speech.  For a more detailed discussion of the legal issues, go to Maryland High Court Sets Legal Standard for Outing Online Foes.

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Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP

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View Aaron Morris, Trial Attorney and Partner at Morris & Stone, with emphasis on Free Speech and Defamation Law.

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